Depression is at times difficult to diagnose. Everyone goes through times of feeling down or overcast, and to say from these moments that you have depression can feel like an over-exaggeration. Even if you are going through a patch in life that leaves you feeling low in mood for a long time, it can feel strange to describe this as depression. As a result, a lot of people who probably have depression are never diagnosed, and never get the treatment that would help them greatly.
There is not one cause to depression, which again makes it difficult to diagnose. To one person the triggering factor may be strains from life, while to another person the cause is a chemical imbalance in the brain. The cause may be obvious to you, or it may not be. When diagnosing depression, a doctor will talk to you to discuss your feelings and possible causes to determine what they believe to be the cause.
When it comes to diagnosing depression, doctors will take into account a variety of symptoms. Often depression is diagnosed with three or four notable symptoms being present. Of course the most prominent of these symptoms is the low mood that depression causes. This is often described as hopelessness or despair by those with depression. The low mood caused by depression feels much more than stress and frustration, and will commonly last for weeks or months, rather than days. It can often seem that those with depression have bouts of the illness, lasting for long periods at a time.
Doctors will also take into account how much this depression is affecting their patient’s everyday life. While a lot of low moods may leave a person brooding or quiet for several days, depression will affect a person more significantly. Symptoms of depression vary from person to person, but symptoms commonly include fatigue, decreased interest in everyday life, difficulties concentrating, and irritability. With symptoms like these, it is easy to see how prominent an effect depression can have on life.
It is worth remembering that depression not only has a powerful effect on a person, but also the family and friends close to that person. If a parent is showing a decreased interest in life, or a work colleague is struggling to make quick decision, or your partner is appearing to be uninterested in your relationship, it can be worrying or upsetting to watch. Therefore diagnosing depression and setting out to treat the illness not only has a positive impact on your life, but also on those around you.
What Are the Symptoms of Depression?
The most common symptom of depression is low mood most often associated with the illness. This can change from person to person, with descriptions of this mood including “misery”, “moody”, or “low”. One of the significant features of this lowness, in comparison to “bad moods”, is that this feeling of lowness can last from weeks to months. It really is a significant dip in mood, and it is understandable that this change will cause knock on effects in behaviour. Symptoms of depression will vary from person to person, but here we describe some of the more common symptoms.
Commonly those with depression will experience a drop in their interest in the world around them and their everyday life. This may mean that they no longer wish to carry out hobbies that they previously enjoyed, or no longer get satisfaction from chores such as cooking. This loss of interest can also extend to areas such as their sex life. It is also common for those with depression to experience a drop of interest in food or in appetite, making them more prone to weight loss.
On the other hand, hobbies and everyday life can also become affected by a drop in energy and feelings of tiredness. This may mean that those with depression have less energy to spend on the chores or hobbies, thus having a knock on effect to those around the person. Ironically, those with depression often find that they struggle to get to sleep or have a good night’s sleep, also increasing their feelings of fatigue.
Those with depression can also find that they struggle to focus their thoughts or to concentrate. As a result of this, it can feel more difficult to make decision than it did previously.
Depression can also have an effect on a person’s self-esteem and self-confidence. They may experience a drop in their self-esteem. This can lead to low beliefs of feeling in the way or inadequate to those friends and family around them. This, or indeed other symptoms of depression, can lead to an avoidance of spending time with other people.
Other emotional feelings caused by depression can include guilt at the effect that the depressed behaviour is having on other people, or a hopeless feeling that things will never improve and that the depression will never be cured. Depression can also leave a person feeling irritable, an emotion that may be displayed in response to other people.
Finally, depression can at times lead to thoughts about suicide, a surprisingly common effect of depression. It is important, however, to discuss these thoughts and feelings with other people.
With so many possible symptoms of depression all interplaying and working off each other, it can feel difficult to work out exactly what symptoms you are experiencing. A good way to pin point your feelings or behaviour is to keep a mood diary. Here you can record your emotions, your behaviour, or your thoughts on a daily basis. This can make it easier to dissect any symptoms you might be experiencing, which is turn can make depression feel much more treatable.
What Causes Depression?
Rather than one universal cause, depression is actually an illness that can have many different causes. These vary from person to person, and it may well be that the cause for one person’s depression is nothing like the cause for another’s. Multiple causes can interact with each other, or there may well be only one cause. If you are struggling to understand potential causes of depression, it is advisable to discuss your thoughts with your doctor.
One common cause of depression is a psychological reaction to a stressful situation in life you may be experiencing or have previously experienced. These causes can include bereavement, illness, job or money concerns of stress, divorce or redundancy. These events or stressors can cause the permanent lowness of mood, as well as other symptoms of depression such as anxiety, low self-esteem and self-confidence. In these cases it can be fairly straightforward to pinpoint the cause of depression and begin to work through the issues it raises.
Depression can also be caused by chemical or hormonal changes in the brain. Hormonal changes can have a powerful effect on mood. These changes can be particularly apparent in women during pregnancy, the menstrual cycle, or the menopause, and helps to explain why women are more likely than men to suffer from depression.
A family history of depression will often leave offspring more vulnerable to developing depression than those without a family history. The altered inherited gene, 5-HTT, is shown to effect serotonin in the brain. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter, is a chemical which has an effect on changing mood. The altered 5-HTT gene has been found to be shorter in people suffering from depression than it is in those who do not have the illness. Other possible chemical causes of depression include altered levels of various neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin. Those with depression are often found to have lower levels of these neurotransmitters than those without depression. Many of the chemical differences between those with depression and those without are as yet not fully understood.
Depression can often be caused by drugs such as cannabis and other recreational drugs, and also excessive amounts of alcohol.
As said before, there is often not one single cause to depression, and many life factors may interact with each to cause the formation of depression. For example, bereavement may cause a stronger likelihood to drink excessive alcohol levels, or lead to relationship difficulties. If you are struggling to decipher the causes of depression, try writing down all the significant events, stressors or behaviours in your life which you feel may have contributed. Try to think of how your behaviour has been during or since these events. Also try talking to your doctor. They will be able to help you to work out the possible causes of your depression.
What Are the Treatments of Depression?
Depression is a common and widely treated illness. There are many different treatments of depression that can be decided between when it comes to treating your depression, or the depression of someone close to you. When deciding on treatment plan, it is best to discuss your thoughts with your doctor. They will be able to best advise you on what course to take, and which would be the most suitable treatment.
When thinking about treatments of depression, it may be that therapy will spring to mind. Therapy is often a good place to start to treat your depression, especially for those suffering from mild or moderate forms of depression. A variety of different therapy forms are available, but the most common, and often the most recommended, is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT as it is often known, is a form of therapy that introduces strategies to challenge the negative thoughts behind the depression. CBT usually comes in structured sessions over a set number of weeks. If CBT does not interest you, or it is felt that you may benefit from another form of therapy, another option may be Interpersonal Therapy, or IPT. Rather than the focus being on the negative thoughts you have, IPT instead focuses on your relationships with the people around you and how this affects your depression. Finally, counselling may be available. During counselling sessions the focus is often on you to come up with solutions to any difficulties you may be facing, with the support of a counsellor.
In moderate or more severe cases of depression, your doctor may suggest a prescription of anti-depressant drug. These will often take 2 weeks to a month to take effect, and initially there may be a period of changing the dosage or the medication before you experience the full effectiveness of the medication. Your doctor will have the choice of many different forms of medication. Initially they may prescribe an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) which increase the level of the neuro-inhibitor serotonin in the brain, which will help to raise your mood. Other forms of antidepressants include TCA (tricyclic antidepressants) which similarly help to raise the serotonin levels, and also noradrenaline levels, in the brain. MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) may be prescribed in cases when the subject smokes or eats more than average. In more severe cases of depression where previous antidepressants have been shown not to have an effect, your doctor may prescribe Lithium. Antidepressant medication will run the risk of causing side-effects while treating your depression. Your doctor should discuss these with you before prescribing the drug. You may also experience some withdrawal effects when you finish taking the medication.
As well as following treatments recommended to you by your doctor, there are also steps you can take yourself to decrease your depression. Self-help books may help to widen your knowledge of depression, and give you some suggestions of ways to tackle any problems it may be causing. With such a wide variety of books available, there should be something out there that appeals to everyone. Self-help websites are also available. Self-help groups may also be available in your area. Exercise has also been found to have a positive effect on the mood of those with depression. Similarly, it is also worth taking some time to do things that you enjoy doing. It may seem at times that when suffering from depression it is tempting to hide away from the world, but getting out, seeing people you know, or going places you enjoy going will help to give you to focus on something different. Take time to see your friends and family, and do the things that make you feel good.